Despite use of the word disruptive in a significant number of press releases, I expect few, if any, truly disruptive manufacturing technologies. Things simply take some time from conception to adolescence to maturity. Products I’ve seen that looked disruptive often didn’t make it due to executive incompetence or lack of vision (same thing).

Watching the flow of press releases and conversations from technology developers, here are a few thoughts for the near future.

I expect to see Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) increasingly integrated as part of overall manufacturing process. The process is getting stable and tolerances are becoming tighter. More than just for manufacturing obsolete parts for service, it will become simply another tool in the discrete manufacturing process.

One non-technology trend that is happening now and I expect it to become nearly ubiquitous except maybe in the “laggard” companies concerns management making a concerted effort to break down department silos and foster teams–not a technology thing but a people thing. Looking at technology for the infamous IT/OT convergence is like looking for a vegetarian in a pork processing factory.

Everyone talks around Artificial Intelligence (AI) as if either the utopian or dystopian future is at hand. Yet when I analyze the opinions, real knowledge of AI is scarce. I expect ever increased integration of Machine Learning and Neural Net technology into automation and operations workflow. We most likely won’t even realize it. Just as my generation brought PCs into businesses and manufacturing first almost as a gimmick and then a generally used tool, Alexa or Siri for manufacturing workflow will just be there.

Improved data analysis leading to improved interactive visualization including AR. I put a lot in this sentence. For a reason. I think data collection, analysis, and visualization are tied together. Why collect data if we don’t run it through some analysis filters and then use it? How do we prepare data for utility unless we continually develop useable visualization? And Augmented Reality might become part of that visualization solution. The jury is still out there.

The entry of major IT players deeply into manufacturing at the OT as well as IT area brings with it more power and connectivity in edge devices. This circumventing of the Purdue Model will continue unabated. We see the major automation players realizing that the automation and control systems are not the ideal gateway for all (just some) process data to enterprise decision-making systems and either partnering or developing for the edge.

It goes without saying that cyber security is becoming more core to engineering at the manufacturing OT level. A press release just came through announcing Rockwell Automation is acquiring an Israeli security company. Expect to see more of that.

One more thing concerns the way software and service are now being bought and sold. And also hardware in many respects. For software, the trend, perhaps begun by Inductive Automation some 16 years ago (note: it is a sponsor), to not buying seat licenses but of buying usage or software-as-a-service is spreading—finally. A stable cloud helps. The experience of Salesforce propelled the idea. This year Hewlett Packard Enterprise put far more than its toe in the water.

I enjoy interviews, but seldom just take random comments through PR people, but a timely email regarding ideas from Gary Brooks, CMO at Syncron that a combination of technology and flexible consumption plans are propelling Product-as-a-Service fits this mold. I first heard of this idea seriously somewhere around 1998. Customers now expect it.

Last, but maybe first, is the pursuit of sustainable products and processes. I wrote several articles and commissioned others about this way back when I was at Automation World. Recently I heard iPod, iPhone, Nest developer Tony Fadell (@tfadell) on the Tim Ferriss (@tferriss) podcast. It was a great interview worth listening to in its entirety. But his passion was really aroused when he talked about his research into sustainable packaging—eliminating plastics.

Brooks also mentioned sustainability.

This is an area I have shirked for a while. Perhaps I’ll start up a newsletter or something (great if I could get a sponsor) to further this discussion from our point of view. With so many billions of humans in the world, our impact on the environment is cumulative and wreaking havoc.

What should I be adding?

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